It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Merrimack Valley Community Music School Logo

A few weeks ago, my business partner Rae at New Arts Collaborative and I were contacted by The Merrimack Valley Community Music School,  a community-based, non-profit music school that is dedicated to helping people connect through music education and performance. They were very interested in having a logo developed for the school to use on their print materials and website. We scheduled a conference call with Valerie Walton, the Executive Director to get an idea of what the school was looking for and to try to brainstorm some ideas. Valerie had sent us some links to examples of websites/logos that she liked including the Northeast Organic Farming Association (, The Essex County Community Foundation (, and the Arlington Center for the Arts (
Their own website was very plain and offered few clues:

During the conference it became apparent that the school needed to achieve three goals: 1) Show visually and quickly that it was a music school, 2) Distinguish itself from other music schools in the area, 3) Contain a tagline and/or visual that would convey or encapsulate their mission statement.
Some of the other goals we discussed. Easy to read, easy to use, usable in black and white or color, designed so that it can be shrunk or enlarged easily without losing quality. 

The key words that I heard during our discussion was community, an important part of their identity, and growth, both in the sense of growing the school, and in the sense of personal growth. On their website they say:
 "Music at its best brings people together and creates positive energy within a community as a common language that bonds us beyond cultural, social and economic differences. Music education is a powerful way to learn about oneself and to explore the possibilities that lie within each of us, to reach for our highest good and potential". 
One of the essential ideas was that this school was for the entire community, and could help you grow at any stage of your life, from young child to adult. This was also the key to what distinguished this school from other schools, that were geared more for training school-aged children.

I started thinking about growth metaphors. And we decided that “Growing through music” might be a good tagline. This phrase would percolate in my brain for a while.

The first thing I did after the conference call, was start researching music forms and notations. G-clefs, musical notes, stops, time notations.  I started playing around with the forms. This was the first round. A I usually do, I started designing in black and white, playing with the forms in Adobe Illustrator.

We then received feedback from Valerie, as well as the School's Director, Charles Leinbach. He thought that the emphasis should be on the words "Merrimack Valley Community" rather than on "Music School". He also didn't think that the music notations were working. However in one of her e-mails Valerie suggested trying; "Bass (or F clef) and Treble (or G clef) Bass is lower and treble is higher as they sit on the GRAND STAFF A music chord (or arpeggio or phrase) often is thought of as going from low to high.  I wonder about a plant or vine somehow growing up the grand staff. Possibly too complicated."
 The idea of a growing plant seemed to fit, especially as one of their preferred colors was green. Then I came across this image of a note:

It struck me how leaf-like the flag on the top of the note appeared. That got me to thinking about the base of the note being like a seed-pod. I had a bit of a eureka moment. The image literally came to me in my sleep. Upon waking, I did a quick sketch in my notepad. 

Developing that idea, this is what I came up with this for the second round:

I wanted to make sure that the client was clear on the intended metaphor and added the notations explaining the components as extra insurance. We sent these off, and the feedback was positive.
They really liked the central idea. Now it was refining the text, positioning and color.
 The biggest problem was integrating the text. One of the reasons I wanted to emphasize  "Music School" instead of "Merrimack Valley Community" was because of the length of that text. "Music School" is nice and short. So I had to play around with it a bit to get it to work. The client also wanted to lose the "berries", and preferred the stalk of the musical note/plant, to break both the "ground" it was placed into as well as the frame it was contained in. Here is round 3.
I have developed both a vertical as well as a horizontally-oriented  version of the logo. I have also selected a complementary orange color to go with the green. The colors were Pantone 1375 (orange), Pantone 349 (dark green) and Pantone 376 (light green).
As usual I developed the logo to be modular, comprised of a logo-mark, and a word-mark, which can be used together or separately in different configurations. This allows the most flexibility in application.
Here is the guide I developed showing the final logo.

The client was very happy with the result.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Salem Theatre Logo

One of my regular clients for the past 5 years has been the Salem Theatre Company I was first brought into the company by Executive Director Gary LaParl, whom I had met when I was a member of the Salem Arts Association and Matteo Pangallo, the original founder of the company, and a co-worker at the Peabody Essex Museum. They brought me in to design a print brochure (the first) for the milestone sixth season and develop a branding system for their promotional materials.

The Salem Theatre Company (STC) was founded in 2002 by Artistic Director, Matteo Pangallo. To implement his vision of a semi-professional local theater for Salem and the North Shore, he established a Board of Directors (BOD) and a Board of Advisors (BOA), and led the first several seasons. During his tenure, and under the original BOD, STC was incorporated as 501(c)(3 ) Salem Arts Center, Inc.

Matteo had designed the original STC logo, unfortunately it was created in Microsoft Word, and had very limited applicability. It looked like this:

The print materials for the first few seasons were sometimes striking, but were also uneven in execution. There was no STC "look". One of my jobs was to refine the existing logo, create a standard framework for the posters, business cards, postcards, ads, signage and other materials for the theatre, all on a very tight, non-profit budget.

I streamlined the STC logo, and recreated it as a vector-based graphic, selected a color palette, and set up a template for show posters, event posters, and the season brochure. I also developed identities for the shows in the Season 6 and the Season 7 brochures. Here is the revised logo:

When John Fogle became artistic director of the STC in 2009, he took over developing the show identities. (He had an extensive background in photography and design). I continued to produce the show posters and special event posters. That continued until this year, when John stepped down as artistic director. A new artistic director, Matthew Gray, was appointed in the spring of 2014. He brought a tremendous amount of energy and new ideas to the Salem Theatre and immediately went in a new direction, including completely revamping the existing logo.

Apparently on Matthew's first visit to Salem with his wife Kelly, they had visited one of the old cemeteries that crowd the center of Salem. The trees there are particularly old and impressive. This struck Matthew as a powerful symbol, not only of Salem, but also what he wanted the theatre to be and stand for. An active and inter-active part of the community.

Matthew and Gary LaParl, had developed a prototype of what they wanted:

Although I liked the look of it. I saw some immediate problems. The tree component had been grabbed from  a website and was not available for licensing. Also, there was no tie-in with the existing logo's colors or typefaces. Complicating the identity was the fact that they had decided to drop "company" from the logo.The Salem Theatre Company (STC) would be henceforth known as simply as the Salem Theatre.Matthew

Once again, there was a good-looking logo that was basically unusable. My job became creating a version of this logo idea that was workable, legal, and bridged the jump from the old logo to the new.
First I had to find the right tree. I actually maintain a file of tree photos called "Sexy Trees". I like trees and find them to be visually fascinating. Using one of my tree photos as reference, I redrew the existing tree by hand. It needed to be similar to the one in the prototype, without being a copy.
I came up with this:

Although still somewhat stylized, it was less symmetrical and therefore a bit more realistic. Matthew and Gary had already selected Trebuchet as one of the typefaces for the new logo. In order to make some connection with the old system, I used Myriad Pro Regular for the "Salem" face. I also used the original "STC yellow" (Pantone122) as the background color. I developed both a vertically-oriented and horizontally-oriented version of the logo.

After review, Gary and Matthew both wanted a version of the logo where the tree branches broke the border of the frame. So I made a version with the tree inside the box was one object, and the branches outside the box were another. That way if the logo appears on a black background, the extending branches would stand out.

The new logo was approved and is currently being rolled out on various materials including a 12th Season brochure, but more about that later.